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Biden announces strategy to tackle gun violence amid sharp increase in crime

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday laid out his plan for addressing the surge in gun violence that has impacted cities around the country in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, saying he wants to "supercharge what works."

The president's strategy addressed five key areas: stemming the flow of firearms used to commit violence; providing law enforcement with more resources; investing in community violence interventions; expanding summer programs and employment opportunities, especially for young people; and helping formerly incarcerated people re-enter their communities.

Biden said in an address from the White House that one way to stem the flow of guns is to crack down on "rogue gun dealers" who break the law, calling them "merchants of death." "We will make sure you can't sell death and mayhem on our streets," he said.

As part of Biden's plan, the Treasury Department will issue new guidelines Wednesday making clear that communities experiencing a surge in gun violence as a result of the pandemic can use the $350 billion in state and local funding included in the American Rescue Plan to hire more law enforcement officials and purchase equipment that would allow police departments to better respond to gun violence.

The Treasury Department will also share guidelines on how funds in the American Rescue Plan can be used to expand summer camp programs, mental health services, food assistance, job placement programs and other social services that help prevent crime.

Biden also called on local officials to use the American Rescue Plan funds to invest in community violence interventions — which aims to reduce gun violence by connecting people with economic and social programs — and will establish a network of local governments to work together to share best practices.

“This is a historic amount of funding that the president is making available to cities and states through the American Rescue Plan to invest in a range of tools to reduce gun violence in their communities and make their communities safer,” an administration official told reporters on a call ahead of the remarks.

Judge: An officer collects evidence at the scene where an 8-year-old girl was shot on the 1000 block of North Monticello Avenue on Aug. 11, 2019 in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune / TNS via Getty Images file)
Judge: An officer collects evidence at the scene where an 8-year-old girl was shot on the 1000 block of North Monticello Avenue on Aug. 11, 2019 in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune / TNS via Getty Images file)

The official said that it would be up to the states and local governments to determine how to spend funds allocated as part of the American Rescue Plan, meaning that some communities could opt to invest the money solely in hiring more police officers.

"The president is giving these cities unprecedented resources through the American Rescue Plan to invest in the tools they think make sense in their communities,” the official said.

Biden's announcement comes as crime around the country has risen sharply and as Republicans have been quick to paint the president as soft on the issue. The FBI does not release full crime statistics until September, but estimates by criminologists show a 30 percent increase in homicides last year, with another 24 percent increase at the beginning of this year.

The president's speech also comes as he faces pressure from some Democrats and advocates to make police reform a legislative priority after George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered last summer by a white police officer. During his presidential campaign, Biden promised to tackle police reform, but lawmakers on Capitol Hill have so far been unable to reach a deal on a bill.

As part of Biden's strategy to address crime, the Justice Department announced a new policy that will allow the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to revoke the license of gun dealers the first time they violate a federal law, such as giving a firearm to an unauthorized person, failing to run required background checks or falsifying records.

The Justice Department will also make more resources available — such as FBI agents and technological tools — to state and local law enforcement as they brace for an increase in crime typically seen over the summer months. Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke before the president, and said the initiatives will "save lives."

Biden and Garland spoke after hosting Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, Rapid City, S.D., Mayor Steve Allender and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, among other stakeholders, at the White House for a meeting on crime.

The president also again urged Congress to take action by passing bills on expanded background checks and to close the so-called "boyfriend loophole."

Asked if he had any hope that Congress could pass another assault weapons ban, Biden said, "I never give up hope."

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